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Work in the media? Struggle with statistics? Stan's irreverent (and often irrelevant) review of the latest media reports, news and gossip may not help at all... Stan the Statistician

Stan # 75: Speed! December 2003

Speed is something which is built into the DNA of all small boys and remains for a lifetime as boys always remain small boys at heart as all girls know. I refer here of course, to objects moving quickly not the drug.

A typical road car such as the Ford Focus, will accelerate from 0-60 miles per hour in 10.1 seconds and reach 115 mph. The figures for a selection of other vehicles shows:

Ferrari 360 Mondena 0-60, 4.2 secs, top speed 183 mph
Caterham R500 0-60, 3.5 secs, top speed 150 mph
Suzuki GSX R1000 (motorbike) 0-60, 3.5 secs, top speed 180 mph
WRC rally car 0-60, 3.4 secs, top speed 120 mph
McLaren F1 0-60, 3.2 secs, top speed 240 mph
Formula One car 0-60, 2.7 secs, top speed 220 mph
Rocket powered dragster 0-60, 0.2 secs, top speed 400 mph
Thrust SSC 0-60, 35 secs, top speed 763 mph

Why do I want to race past a speed camera in one of these bad boys?

I am reliably informed that one should not die before seeing a nitromethanol or top fuel dragster in action. Watching one leave the line assualts every sense you have (though maybe you don't have any if you drive them). You can smell and taste the fuel, you're deafened by the noise and, if you're close enough, you can feel the ground shake. These machines reach 100 mph in less than one second and a top car will reach 300 mph in less than 5 secs within a quarter of a mile.

In 1981, the late Sammy Miller (how anyone could be late with a car like that, I just don?t know) drove his appropriately named car, Vanishing Point, powered by rockets rather than the boring internal combustion engine, to 247 mph in 1.67 secs. In 1984, he reached 386 mph in 3.58 secs within a quarter of a mile. Every time he drove it, his nose and ears bled. It remains the world record probably because no one is so insane as to try to beat it. The one man who may have been tempted is also dead.

Colonel Dr John Paul Stapp was a research officer at Edwards Air Force Base in California and, during the 1950s, investigated the effects of acceleration and deceleration on the human body, namely his own. He built a rocket powered sled and rode it 29 times, during which he suffered among many less serious injuries, concussion, retinal detachments, a hernia, several broken ribs, and two broken wrists.

In his final ride, in 1954 at the age of 43, he and his sled accelerated from rest to 632 mph in 5 secs. But the test wasn't to see how fast it could go, it was to see how fast it could stop. From considerably faster than the cruising speed of a Boeing 747, he came to rest in 1.4 secs. During that time, Stapp decelerated at 40G. When he came round, he found that he was blinded on account of his eyeballs becoming temporarily fused to their lids. It was 30 years before anyone travelled faster on the surface of the planet. Incredibly, Stapp died peacefully at home four years ago at the age of 92. So who says speed kills?

Whilst on the theme of collective nouns, a dedicated reader (yes, I do have one) has suggested a competition for the best new collective nouns. You may choose any category.

To get the trundle of balls rolling he suggests:

A threat of traffic wardens,
A lie of marketing executives,
An improbability of racing tipsters,
A deceit of salespeople,
A slouch of adolescents,
A conceit of MENSA members
and of course a fish of statisticians (or, poisson for pretentious ones)

A lie of marketing executives? As a close colleague is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, I think he may take exception to this. An alternative: an adoption (early or otherwise) of Marketing Executives.

An improbability of racing tipsters? Now that's more like it. I know a number who lunch.... and cost me money....

A crestfall of gamblers?... I like that one. If you are familiar with probability theory.... If not, how many casino owners or bookies do you know on the dole?

A conceit of Mensa members? As another close colleague is a member, I think he may take exception to this. A sadness of Mensa members? Nearer the mark I'll tell you. A quotient of Mensa members?

The fish of statisticians fooled me until I read the French version. I used to love Poisson Distributions and Gantt charts though I've recently developed a taste for beta-binomial formulae... I must get out more.

OK, how about a Bayes of statisticians? For the pretentious ones I suggest a Dirichlet-trinomial of statisticians.

Check in again at my desk soon!

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